And joining me, here in Washington, "New York Times" columnist
and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Tom Friedman. And from London,
where he is promoting his new book, "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell.
Malcolm, is it ever possible to view the tipping point in anything
other than a rear-view mirror? In other words, can you see it when
Sometimes. Of course, it's easiest to see these kinds of things
in retrospect. But I think there are moments, and occasions, when
it is obvious to us when we're going through one of these kind of
cataclysmic shifts. And I think there are -- I mean, I think, clearly
the reason we're here is that we have a very, very strong suspicion
that what's going on in Iraq right now with the election is such
a shift. I mean, I think we can develop a strong suspicion that
this is something worth examining and watching.
All right. Tom Friedman is clearly the expert on that region. But
before we go to Tom, Malcolm I'd like you to sort of spell out for
us, if you can, what some of the factors are that might cause you,
as the developer or one of the developers of the theory of the tipping
point, that might cause you to believe that what happened last month
with the elections meets the necessary standards.
Well, the most important thing in trying to analyze whether something
is at the verge of a tipping point, is whether it -an event causes
people to reframe an issue. So, for example, an example of reframing
is -- a dumb example is the Atkins' diet, which reframes dieting
from thinking about it in terms of avoiding calories and fat to
thinking about it as avoiding carbohydrates. Which really changes
the way people perceive dieting. It becomes a much simpler concept
to handle, a much simpler strategy to follow. That, to me, is the
first thing I would look for. Is, have we -- when we think about
a particular issue, in this case, Iraq -- have we shifted our concept
of what that issue means, what it tells us? What comes to mind is
-- what comes to mind when we first think about it dramatically
different than before this event that we think is the tipping point?
All right. Let's look at the elections last month. And Tom Friedman,
I'm an avid reader of your column. So, I know that you, in fact,
believe that something fundamental has shifted here. Have we reframed
the way we think about Iraq, as seen through the prism of those
elections? And if so, why?
I think we have, Ted. And I like the way Malcolm really defined
the tipping point as a reframing. I would argue that before the
election in Iraq, Iraq was perceived -- the meta-story in Iraq was
"Iraqi insurgents, against American occupiers and their Iraqi
lackeys." I would argue after the election, the whole issue
in Iraq has been reframed much more as a civil war between a tiny
Jihadist insurgency and Baathist insurgency, against what is clearly
an overwhelming Iraqi majority that aspires to some form of constitutionalism
and pluralism. And so, I like the way Malcolm has defined it because
in that sense, Iraq -this election is a tipping point. I believe
it has begun to reframe the issue. I think for it to successfully
reframe the issue, the insurgency has to be defeated now by that
All right. So, it may or may not be the tipping point. Malcolm,
let me come back to you and ask you whether in the course of events
-- and let me use a sports analogy: in an exciting football game
or an exciting basketball game, there can be half a dozen tipping
points. They can turn it first in favor of one team and then back
again in favor of another team. When one talks about the tipping
point, as you do in your book, it suggests that there's one and
that's it. But that's not the way life is.
Yeah. No. There's no question that -- what the whole idea is behind
the tipping point is that systems, organizations, institutions,
situations, are far more volatile than they appear. So, I think
we always have to be on-guard, under the notion. Once we granted
the inherent volatility of situations, on guard against the notion
that things could go in the other direction just as quickly.
Tom, let me ask you to look at what's been happening over the last
two years. I can point to two or three events, you know quite literally,
the tipping of Saddam's statue, which symbolically gave the impression
that we were way ahead. The sense that when the President made his
famous declaration on the aircraft carrier about major combat being
over in Iraq, that seemed like a tipping point in one direction.
May have proved to be a tipping point in a totally different direction
later on. Pick up from there and point out to me, if you will, where
you think the tipping points have gone over the past couple of years.
And why you think this one may be "the" rather than simply
"a" tipping point.
Well, for me, Ted, as someone who is following this issue, I had
my own tipping point in my head, what I was looking for. And I was
looking for two things. One was an Iraqi majority that was ready
to come together and claim ownership of Iraq. Number one. And for
that, we needed an election. And then, that same majority being
willing to fight and die for it. And it seemed to me that to have
a unified -a decent Iraq, we really required those two things. And
that's why, when the election happened, I, for one, you know, was
very excited about it because I felt I was seeing the necessary
but still not sufficient. Now, this majority's going to have to
fight or negotiate to see that its will is sustained for Iraq to
really have that outcome we want. And so, in that sense, I always
had my own criteria for a tipping point. And the reason I jumped
on it in my own column, these elections, is because I started to
see it play out in the real world.
All right. We're going to take a short break. When we come back,
though, I'd like you, Malcolm, in particular, to spell out some
sort of rules of thumb as we can apply them to what we see happening
in Iraq today. Back with both of our guests in a moment.
And I'm back once again with Tom Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell.
Malcolm, I'm not going to let you off as easily this time around.
I want you to use, quite literally, some of the rules of thumb that
you developed in your book and apply them to the situation that
now appears to exist in Iraq, in terms of making some projections
if you can. Go ahead.
Well, a couple of things. I mean, when I describe tipping points
in the book, it strikes me that one of the most important factors
is that institutions change, reaches tipping points, when there
is a small group of socially influential people who get behind an
idea. There has to be some diversity in the elements of change.
To use an example, from many years ago, there was a tipping point
with rock music in the early 1960s. And that had to do with music
but also technology. Right? Portable radios, which had to do with
-in turn with the development of special kinds of batteries and
the transistor. And there was a confluence of -- in other words,
of cultural forces and technological forces that combined to create
a tipping point in that area. I would like to see if this is to
serve as a tipping point for Iraq, some similar combination of factors.
It's not enough for this simply to be a political transformation.
There has to be some other kind of transformation that joins forces
with this to create some kind of lasting and permanent change. I'd
like to see, for example, you know, some sort of economic -- similar
economic tipping point. Or I would like to see some change on the
religious front that permits the political change to have much more
I think it's very useful way to think of it. The reinforcing thing.
Well, what would you like to see as reinforcing? You would like
to see now a dialogue between the Sunni insurgents and the Shi'a
Kurdish majority that's won the election. And I think we're beginning
to see that. You would like to see some broad understanding begin
to take shape on the role of religion within the new constitution.
I think we're going to see that, as well. Those would be the reinforcing
things that would tell us that actually, a majority for a reasonably
decent, reasonably progressive Iraq has emerged and is sustainable.
Do we need to see some dominant personalities? In other words, can
you have that kind of a crucial turnaround in an entire country
without the emergence of a leader who is acceptable to all?
I think, again, that is necessary, Ted. Where that and when that
leader will emerge, I think, is unclear right now. Because Iraqis
are actually going through their first horizontal dialogue ever,
basically, in a free way. And I think it's going to take a little
time for them to create a kind of understanding of that single leader.
But again, I think that would be an enormously reinforcing thing.
I would simply add, also, we've seen two nearby tipping points,
as well, which are both triggered by Iraq and will reinforce Iraq.
In Lebanon, we've seen Lebanese stand off and say for the first
time ever, "Syria did this." Referring to the murder of
former Lebanese Prime Minister. Lebanese, as Malcolm said, privately
they may have spoken that way. But now, we see them step out of
what was a private dialogue and make it a public dialogue. And in
Palestine and Israel, we see an Israeli government agree to uproot
Jewish settlements and evacuate the Gaza Strip and turn it over
to a Palestinian authority and what will be a Palestinian state.
Again, a whole new tipping point there. And each one of these three
are now reinforcing each other in a virtuous cycle. And I think
in some ways, even strengthening each other. So, you could get more
tipping points as this goes along.
It's a wonderful illustration of how powerful fully contagious these
kinds of changes are. You know, I can't help thinking in all of
this back to the example of what was going on in Eastern Europe,
particularly East Germany, in the month leading up to the fall of
the Berlin Wall. 'Cause you had a similar kind of -- many different
aspects of society, this kind of contagious element. And the notion,
the idea that there could be a different future for people in that
region spread so quickly from one area of society to another, that
you had change happen far more quicker than you would ever have
imagined. And, you know, I wonder when I see all of the things that
Tom just described, there does seem to be a kind of contagious phenomenon
at work here. That this notion that people of this region can powerfully
reshape their futures seems to be spreading. You know, it resembles
a spread of a virus. A kind of uncontrolled -- in this case a positive
spread, though. An uncontrollable phenomenon whereby an idea spreads
from one person to another.
Final question to you, Tom. Conceding that, as Yogi Berra famously
said, it ain't over until it's over. Is it your sense that a critical
point has been reached and that now we can look at what's happening
in Iraq with a far more positive view than, perhaps a month ago?
I think the chance for a decent outcome there has been elevated
enormously because of the election, Ted. But, you know, as I noted
the other day, I think if we put all the events in the Middle East
together, we're seeing the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin
Wall there. That is truly good news. The bad news is, is that Vaclav
Havel and the Solidarity Trade movement are not on the other side.
That is, the level of civil society that we saw in Eastern Europe,
already there, ready to almost jump into the West, isn't there in
the Middle East. And that's why all of these tipping points, while
necessary, are still not quite sufficient for the kind of decent
progressive outcome that we all hope for. But they are necessary.
And that's why they're hugely important.
Tom Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, thank you both.